After the brutal winter we have had, I personally have been looking forward to spring with the kind of childish enthusiasm that is usually reserved for Christmas morning, the arrival of a pizza delivery man, or even payday. I live in Texas, so spring is usually about four days of mild weather before we start hitting triple-digit temperatures, but still, it’s exceptionally nice for those four days. With the change in weather comes the annual re-claiming of my yard from winter’s grasp, and let me just point out that I am not a fan of yard work. It is a necessary evil at best. Alas, in preparation for the improved weather I still broke out the old lawnmower, trimmer, chainsaw, edger, and hedge clippers. Then I fueled up and got to work.
Halfway through mowing my front yard my neighbor comes out from his side yard pushing a bright shiny new mower. Now as a Texan, and as a man, equipment envy is a terrible thing. I once spent $236 dollars at a Walmart at 3 in the morning just to have the nicest drill on the block; so “equipment envy” is a condition I know all too well. The second I saw the mower, I knew a trip to Home Depot was in my immediate future. It was as sleek as a grass-cutting race car. I was so enamored by his mower that I not only ran over some petunias and sprayed fresh flower confetti everywhere, but I almost failed to see an extension cord slung over his right shoulder. It occurred to me, in a manner very similar to the end of “The Crying Game”, that the sleek mowing marvel was electric … immediately I felt dirty. I’d been drooling over hippy yard equipment. Where I am from, a man is judged by his motors, and no electric gadget is going to replace my trusty little 2 stroke yard monsters.
I couldn’t shake the idea, however. I’ve spent so much time researching and promoting everything from power plants to cars that promised no emissions whatsoever, and here I was staring at the puffs of blue-grey smoke pouring out of my lawnmower. All while my neighbor behind me was accomplishing the same task with no blue-grey smoke. “Okay, seriously …” I thought, “How bad can a lawnmower be?”
It turns out that one new gas lawn mower running for an hour produces as much air pollution as eight new cars being driven at 55 mph for an hour. Ouch. It also turns out that the EPA estimates that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled every year in the filling of yard equipment. I have no idea how they estimate that figure, considering that at almost $4 dollars a gallon for gas, I fill my lawn mower with a turkey baster. But if their estimates are correct, that’s more gasoline spilled every year than was spilled in the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Ouch. One gas mower produces roughly a half-pound of hydrocarbons a year with average usage. That’s not that bad, right? Well, when multiplied by the estimated 54 million lawn mowers that get used every weekend in America, that adds up to 5% of the total air pollution produced in the US every year. Again, ouch.
Had I let my inner caveman so quickly dismiss the notion of a better and cleaner alternative to a gas mower simply because, on the surface, it seemed like a naïve attempt at “going green”? I had indeed, done just that. I never considered the impact that lawn equipment has. I assumed that because they were such small motors, there was no way they could have such a big impact on the environment. I heartily accepted the cliché about assumptions, and begrudgingly finished my yard work.
UPDATE: I am happy to report that I now have a sleek electric mower just like my neighbor, and hope someday in the near future to untangle the four extension cords it took to mow my yard last night.